Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE
The broadcaster Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel wrote "possesses a magical ability to spark fourth-quarter comebacks and crazy last-second endings," Joe Tessitore, is on the call of Saturday's Arizona-USC game on ABC.
With the Trojans visiting Arizona Stadium sporting a top 10 ranking and carrying legitimate Pac-12 and BCS championship aspirations, will Tessitore's magic spread to the Wildcats?
"I don't think I'll ever see a stretch like that ever again in my career," Tessitore said of his 2011 docket, which included the 50-48 Baylor and TCU game that introduced Robert Griffin III to the nation, Griffin's upset of Oklahoma, and Iowa State spoiling Oklahoma State's BCS title dreams."Now that I say that, we'll just have to see what happens tomorrow and next week."
Tessitore foresees a great match-up with the preseason conference favorite USC in Tucson to face Arizona's lightning quick offense. The Wildcats hope to catch the Trojans in a trap -- USC hosts Oregon next Saturday in a game circled on most every college football observer's calendar months ago. Talk of the Trojans possibly overlooking UA persists -- just not from the Trojans.
"You can hear it when you talk to the Arizona players, but you don't hear it from anyone at USC," Tessitore said.
On the contrary, a match-up with Arizona might be all the more meaningful for USC and its forthcoming meeting with Oregon. With nearly 88 plays run per game on average, Rich Rodriguez's uptempo system presents many of the same challenges Chip Kelly's Ducks pose to a defense.
The Trojan defense has been outstanding against the rush this season, allowing just under 110 yards per game. Arizona's quick approach to the line presents an intriguing counter to what has been a surprise facet of USC's success.
"USC is extremely athletic in its front seven...in an area that everyone thought was going to be thin, with true freshman Leonard Williams exceeding expecations," Tessitore said. "[And] Morgan Breslin may be the best JUCO transfer in the country. He already has seven sacks."
The ability of USC's defensive front to break into opposing backfields has fueled the Trojans' 16.7 point per game yield, and promises to challenge Wildcat running back Ka'Deem Carey's dash into the record books.
Last season against USC, Carey earned one of the heavier workloads in his collegiate career to that point and scored two touchdowns. But he was also limited to 34 yards on 12 carries.
Rodriguez has modified the offense since arriving in Tucson, relying less on the pass than the Wildcats of a season ago. The balance has made UA dangerous, though play calling is only one element contributing to the 39 point per game output.
"It's about the pace of Arizona, the uptempo effectiveness: getting guys [on defense] out of position, getting guys not lined up correctly, getting guys rushing but still having their heads spinning," Tessitore said.
Matt Scott's ability to the captain the offense caught Tessitore's eye. He called the redshirt senior "extremely talented" in celebrating Scott's play through seven games.
When these teams met a season, Matt Barkley and Marqise Lee rewrote Trojan records. USC was never once forced to punt en route to rolling off 48 points, canceling out one of the best performances of Nick Foles' career.
UA defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has a low bar to clear for improvement over a year ago, but a high hurdle for upending this year's USC team.
"Johnathan McKnight needs to really step up and just have a lock-down mentality," Tessitore said, echoing a familiar theme for the Wildcat defense in facing the explosive USC offense.
The USC duo of Robert Woods and Lee is arguably the best one-two receiving punch in all college football. Casteel needs standout performances from the entire secondary, particularly his corners. The emergence of Derrick Rainey last week helps some in that regard.
"Derrick Rainey and Shaquille Richardson played about the same number of plays, which is a good thing because we had talked about [Richardson and McKnight] playing too many plays. I thought [Rainey] played solid. We are going to need that," Rodriguez said in his weekly press conference.
The secondary also gets added support with the return of Jared Tevis to the Bandit position from injury.
Tight ends like Grimble and Telfer have posed challenges for the Arizona secondary this season. Stanford attacked the Wildcats with its cache of tall, athletic tight ends including Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz. Though UA won handily, the Wildcats had little answer for Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who caught a touchdown pass and 110 yards.
The attention Woods and Lee command does challenge Casteel's 3-3-5 stack defense, but on the opposite side of the ball Rodriguez can stake claim to having one of the conference's premiere wideouts in his arsenal.
"Austin Hill has had a very special season, and Matt Scott feels very confident in [Hill's] abilities," Tessitore said.
Hill will have a potentially determining role in Saturday's outcome on one end. On the other, Arizona must try to replicate the sole blueprint for beating the Trojans that currently exists.
"Stanford had success because of their ability to penetrate the interior of the offensive line, but [USC] was playing the third string center. Barkley couldn't be effective going down field because he was being blown up right in the middle of plays.
"If Sione Tuihalamaka can repeat that kind of success, or [Jake] Fischer and [Marquis] Flowers get involved there -- maybe Justin Washington plays big -- they just need defensive players to play big there," Tessitore said.
Slowing the Trojans is as daunting a task as the Wildcat defense will see all season. A little magic couldn't hurt its efforts.